by A. Ingram
My grandfather was not a pleasant man. On family visits, while my sister and I played on the floor, my parents would sit on the couch adjacent to him trying to share pieces of their exciting young lives, while he sat watching college basketball on his small television, chain smoking and shelling pecans. He was polite enough to avoid conflict, but permanently scowled, and when he did smile, it was forced. His eyes gave that away. When he informed us that he was undergoing quadruple bypass surgery for his heart, to my father’s dismay, he seemed to remain indifferent as to the outcome. He was abrasive in conversation and self-destructive in habit, not caring to consider heeding this “wake up call”, a serious threat to his health. There was always a tangible bitterness and untapped anger brimming beneath his prematurely aged skin, though he never lashed out and directed it at me. It took me reaching adulthood, a decade after his passing, to find that he had not always been this way. Men of my family have an uncanny ability to marry women far out of our league. My grandfather was no exception. In all of her photographs that have survived, my grandmother radiated a beauty to match her name, Grace. A school teacher, she brought order and meaning to my grandfather’s life. Having three children and a career is no easy feat, and she certainly demanded a high standard from him, to which I’m sure he obliged happily. He would have done anything to please her, and he did at the pinnacle of their lives. When their children had all married and left home. When they both retired to enjoy quiet time punctuated by visits from grandchildren. When she was diagnosed with terminal leukemia. And just like that, a month before I was born, when they were supposed to start enjoying the fruits of their collective life’s labor and fade into old age together, she was gone. Recently, I came across a picture of my grandfather holding one of my cousins and I at Christmas. I am two months old, and he has that familiar forced smile on his face. Those unfamiliar with that time see a proud grandfather, cute babies, and a Christmas tree. I see unbearable sadness; his first holiday with a grandson, and no one to share it with. It took me some time to realize that the animosity I felt as a child when he looked at me wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t directed towards me. How could he look at me and not feel bitterness? In his private hours around my birth he must have cursed at God for robbing him of his twilight years with Grace. After all, my birth must have been a harsh reminder of the crushing weight of what could have been.